Thursday, June 21, 2012

Professionalism and Communication

In my recent interview with Jason Marker, he said something that really resonated with me: "Everyone, from the boss at Fantasy Flight or Paizo to the greenest freelancer, are industry professionals, and we should all endeavor to comport ourselves appropriately."

Jason’s not wrong. One thing that’s been key to my career in the gaming industry has been a focus on professionalism. I can thank my father for instilling in me a great desire to be seen first and foremost as a professional in my field. I credit many of my colleagues—including Ed Stark, Steve Horvath, Jason Marker, John Dunn, and Sam Stewart just to name a few—with giving me a deeper understanding of what “acting like a professional” really means.

The gaming industry—both tabletop and video game—has a strong trend toward casual behavior. Very few people wear suits in these businesses, and fewer have any kind of dress code at all. Plus, making games for a living often puts gaming professionals into a role where their customers see them as talented amateurs rather than serious, value-driven experts. This often bleeds over into how the fans and gaming professionals interact.

I’m pleased to say that many—I’d even go so far as to say most of the professionals that I know personally do not fall prey to these misconceptions. For instance, when I walk around the dealer’s hall at Gen Con, I see a lot of great examples of laudable professional behavior in our industry.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case. I’d like to take the opportunity and use this blog post to talk about what professionalism means to me and why it is important to the gaming industry.

I’ll start with my definition of professionalism: A professional is an expert who takes his work seriously and acts with integrity, courtesy, and respect.

Editor’s Note: Again, just for emphasis, the definitions and opinions presented here are strictly my own interpretations.


Integrity is critical in all aspects of life, and it is certainly true about being a professional. A professional keeps his agreements and sticks to the signed contract. A professional obeys the NDA, regardless of the temptation to “spill the beans.” A professional does what he says he would do, when he said he would do it.

As an example, a personal achievement that I’m very proud of is that during my tenure at Fantasy Flight Games, I moved Heaven and Earth to make sure our freelancers were paid on time. This isn’t to say that there weren’t a few hiccups along the way, but I built a solid bond of trust with the people with whom I contracted that they would receive a fair wage for their effort. That’s definitely a mark in my “win” column.


Professionals are courteous. Trash-talking, cursing, and belittling others are strictly amateur hour behaviors.

For myself, whenever I meet a fan of my work, I try to make sure to shake their hand and say “thanks.” Nothing stings more than being completely ignored or unappreciated when you approach someone and tell them how much you like the things that they create.


A professional respects his own work and the work of others. A professional takes ownership of his work, both the good and the bad. A professional has no need to brag or strut—his work speaks for itself.

There is a type of self-aggrandizement known as “shilling,” where a game designer or writer goes to sites like or BoardGameGeek and gives his own product a top rating. I understand the temptation to let other people know how you feel about your work, but there are far better—and more professional—ways to go about that.

Engaging with Fans

This is how we, as professionals, communicate in public. Whenever a game designer posts something on the company website, he’s engaging with fans. Meeting people at a convention, talking on a panel, even just standing around in the hallway wearing your company t-shirt—you are representing yourself as a professional and as an agent of the company (or companies) with whom you do business.

Let me give you a maxim that I learned early on in my career:

The gaming industry is a small one. Everyone knows everyone else.

This means that acting unprofessionally can turn out to be the Mark of Cain. It doesn’t take much for particularly egregious examples of unprofessional behavior to circulate amongst your peers. This is a lesson we all should learn early in our lives; how you act in public influences how people react to you.

As I said earlier, many (if not most) people in the gaming industry get it. However, there are always some who just don’t.

Some things that I personally have witnessed (and mentioned here purely as informative examples) include calling out a forum handle of a particularly critical fan in a public blog post, publically assigning blame for an underperforming product, and skirting an NDA by broadly hinting at which company just got a juicy license. These are all unprofessional behaviors and should be avoided at all costs.

Direct vs. Indirect

Direct engagement is meeting fans face to face, Q & A, and posting in discussion forums. Basically, direct engagement means that you’re replying to or expecting a direct reply to something you’ve said.

Direct engagement can be a lot of fun. I particularly enjoy meeting fans face-to-face; it is one of the highlights of the job. However, it is very important in these situations to always be respectful and maintain courtesy. If someone comes up to me at Gen Con and wants to tell me about his character, I’m game! If I have to go somewhere else and I need to cut him short, I’ll do in the politest way possible at the time.

One of my favorite examples of direct communication happened at Gen Con 2011. A young man came up to me and declared that he represented “/tg/'s combined rage,” and wanted to list a number of demands for the Deathwatch RPG. It was actually a very fun discussion about all things 4Chan, and I was able to help guide him to speak with the right person to hear his concerns.


It is important to set aside a small section to discuss forums. In the gaming industry, forums are nearly ubiquitous. There are official websites for nearly every gaming company and many popular general gaming forums as well.

Forums are one of the trickier aspects of fan interaction. Generally speaking, the purpose of forums is to create a place where fans can interact with each other. Note that I said “with each other” rather than with the designers.

There are a number of companies out there that require full-time employees to actively avoid posting in any forums about their own products. This is actually a very smart idea for the following reasons:
  • Posting in discussion forums takes time away from real work, i.e., making new product or improving existing ones.
  • Some fan discussions can simply be toxic. They can cause emotional reactions completely out of proportion with the issue or issues being raised.
    • If the issue requires something to be done about it, I strongly recommend waiting at least 24 hours before taking action. Remember that anything you say on the internet is there forever.
  • Getting the word out about your products or crafting any message about the company’s intentions is the responsibility of the marketing department, not the designer. That’s what they’re trained for, that’s what they do. Designers make games instead, so stick to that.
I’ve actually had to rescue fellow designers from getting involved in forum discussions—and I’ve had people rescue me in turn—because in the long run, it accomplishes nothing. There are far better and more meaningful ways to interact with the fanbase.

This is true even if the posters are talking about your game. Even if they are getting things completely wrong or turned around. The smart thing is to just stay out of it!

Indirect Engagement

Indirect engagement includes things like blog posts, news updates, designer diaries, and so forth. 
You’re looking at an example of indirect engagement right now!

Indirect engagement is a useful and desirable tool for game designers. It’s a great way to address concerns, get the word out, explain your thinking behind your work, and talk about why you do things the way that you do.

Bottom Line

If you act like a professional, people will treat you like one.

I hope this blog post helps explain my view of professionalism and illustrates why it is so important in our industry.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Interview Time: Jason Marker

Greetings readers! Time for another interview--I'm very pleased to welcome my good friend Jason Marker to the blog. I first became aware of Jason due to his stellar work on the new Robotech RPG products from Palladium Books. Once Jason was available to do some freelance work, I hired him to write for the Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay lines. Jason's got a lot of experience in the industry, both as a developer and a writer, and he's very imaginative and talented at writing both content and adventures.

Dude, he's totally stealing your fedex packages!

Whenever Jason and I get a chance to chat face-to-face, the conversation always seems to come around to our mutual love of Robotech. I try to get at least one nudge in there about "RDF vs. UEEF" but we often goob out over all the stuff we really love about that series.

Jason and I worked together on a number of books for Rogue Trader, Deathwatch, and the main core book for Black Crusade.
You can check out more about Jason on his blog and his tumblr named Amalgamated Fiction.

With the introduction out of the way, let’s begin the interview! As before, my questions are in red.

RW: Can you tell me a little about yourself as a gamer and as a game industry professional?

Jason: Hmmmmmmm. Well, I've been playing RPGs since I was about twelve. My friend Brian introduced me to D&D  through the original red box basic set and I was hooked. From there I went to RIFTS and the rest of the Palladium games. Eventually I went farther afield, playing AD&D, Marvel RPG, WEG's Star Wars, all of the World of  Darkness games (even Wraith which is completely unplayable), Shadowrun, Cyberpunk, Deadlands, Role Master/Middle Earth RPG... Hell, even the Tank Girl RPG. I'm sure I'm forgetting a few, but that was a long time ago.

How did you get your start in the RPG industry?

Jason: This answer tends to infuriate people, as it's kind of flip, but purely by accident. In 1998 I submitted a piece of short fiction to Palladim Books' The Rifter magazine as the final project for a writing class I was taking at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park. To my surprise the piece, which was really short and the first thing I ever submitted for publication, was printed in the Halloween issue. From there I freelanced on and off for years, not doing much as I was apprenticing as an advertising photographer and building my own photography business. In 2007 as the bottom fell out of the advertising industry here in Detroit, Kevin Siembieda hired me at Palladium and the rest is history.

The Black Crusade has begun!

RW: What is something great about working in the RPG industry?

Jason: I make people happy for a living. Well, as happy as you can make a load of passionate, detail oriented...  I love making games and bringing a little fun and adventure into peoples' lives.

What is something really bad about working in the RPG industry?

Jason: Everything else. The pay is lousy, the hours stink, it's feast of famine all the time with either too much or too little work, writing is lonely, and I'm either too busy or too broke to do other extracurricular activities. That being said, it's very much worth it and I wouldn't change what I do for anything.

RW: What do you believe is the most important aspect of professionalism in the RPG industry from the viewpoint of the freelancer? What about from the viewpoint of a publisher?

Jason: For a freelancer? Do good work, meet your deadlines, communicate early and often with your editors, and be open to editorial feedback/guidance. Be courteous and generous to fans and don't brag overmuch. Remember, good work doesn't make a lot of noise. If you disagree with an editorial change, discuss it respectfully and in clear terms but remember to pick your battles and the fact that you don't know everything and can't win every disagreement.

For a publisher? Pretty much the same. Courtesy, professionalism, good communications, and respect go a loooooooooooooooooong way. Also, make sure your expectations are clear and pay the talent on time.

Imperial Fists, Storm Wardens, and Jason Marker.

RW: If you could change one thing about the RPG industry, what would it be?

Jason: The prevalent idea that we're all a bunch of regular guys/nerds/gamers/what have you and that we're doing this as a hobby. Everyone, from the boss at Fantasy Flight or Paizo to the greenest freelancer are industry professionals and we should all endeavor to comport ourselves appropriately.

RW: How do you engage with the fans of your work?

Jason: Through social media and attendance at conventions. I use a Wordpress blog, Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr to interact with fans and colleagues most of the time. Of course, not even the most thorough social media saturation can replace the handshake and the smile and the simple human contact found at places like GenCon and Pax.

What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment as an RPG professional?

Jason: Bringing the new Robotech RPG to market. What's that? Write a bunch of new canon and continuity for a game based on a cartoon I grew up obsessing over? Sure, I can do that!

I'll always be an "RDF" guy, but Jason is the true Robotech Master.

RW: What do you feel is your greatest setback as an RPG professional?

Jason: Losing Robotech. On the other hand, getting laid off from Palladium allowed me to work for other great companies in the industry, so even my greatest setback wasn't a huge disaster. One door closes, another opens, etc etc.

How do you reconcile working on a game that, on the one hand, requires a set of rules… but on the other hand, encourages GMs and players to break the rules or come up with their own?

Jason: Eh, that's pretty easy. Even though I like rules, and I like rules a lot, I know from long experience playing and writing for Palladium that rules can't be perfect and can't cover every imaginable situation at the table. Houserules are a fact of life in our hobby, and I've come to a good houserule as much as an official one.
One of Detroit's most wanted Shadowrunners.

RW: If you were a Shadowrunner, you’d be a…?

Jason: A self-destructive, alcoholic Russian EOD specialist and housebreaker suffering from both near cyber-psychosis and PTSD. Oh wait...I played that character already. His name was Yuri, and as you can imagine, it all ended in tears. Tears and beautiful, beautiful explosions.

What’s your favorite RPG that you have no involvement in?

Jason: I have a two-part answer for that. I'm really, really into Savage Worlds at the moment, but more as a system as opposed to a specific game. As for specific settings, it's Iron Kingdoms by Privateer Press. Man, I'd cut my own mother to write for Iron Kingdoms.

What do you look for… and what is a red flag… for a random freelancer submission?

Jason: Good grammar, good spelling, and the Oxford Comma because Oxford Comma best Comma. As for red flags? Blatant rip-offs of popular characters or media, misspelling common words, basic lack of knowledge of narrative.
RW: If you could pick up the dice and play an RPG right this very instant, you’d play…?

Jason: Robotech, which hilariously enough, I'm about to do with a bunch of friends using the Savage Worlds ruleset. I'll let you know how it goes.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Gaming periodicals

Greetings, readers! Before I get into the meat of the blog post today, I want to quickly point out something cool: my article on Free RPG Day went live at! You can read it here.

I was recently going over my posts about Palladium Books, and it struck me that I’d left something out: the company’s magazine known as the Rifter. However, I didn’t want to go back and edit the posts, and I didn’t really feel like doing an entire blog post just about the Rifter. Instead, today’s blog post is all about RPG periodicals in general.

Actually, I owe a lot of my overall enjoyment of RPGs (and games in general) from various magazines—and e-zines—that I’ve collected over the years. Many… in fact, most gaming magazines were actually “house organs,” in that they were created by and for a particular publisher and focused nearly exclusively on that publisher’s games. Some of the magazines listed below did their best to stay current by keeping track of other trends, but in general each magazine had its own niche.

Let’s start out by looking at the gaming periodicals of yesteryear!


The Golden Age

In my opinion, the golden age of RPG Periodicals lasted from around 1980 up until 1999—roughly 20 years of awesome.

Dragon Magazine


Cover art by Larry Elmore.

There is no other periodical that I could point to that had a greater impact on me than Dragon Magazine. Back when I was first starting out as a gamer, Dragon was freaking awesome. Although Dragon was essentially a house magazine for Dungeons & Dragons, it did cover quite a few other games as well—even if many times it was simply in advertisements! I got my first exposure to Citadel Miniatures by looking at the glossy full-page ads for Warhammer’s “Gob-lobber” and “Screaming Skull Catapult.” Naturally, the Dungeons & Dragons material was good, and it was enough to hook me in right away. I fondly remember reading quite a few of Ed Greenwood’s early Forgotten Realms material, plus the “Ecology of” series, and plenty more nifty articles and editorials. And then there were the comics at the back! I’m talking about Wormy, Yamara, and lots of little one-shot comic panels that were usually quite funny and brought a big smile to my face. The magazine expanded in the mid- and late-80’s with a sci-fi section called “Ares” that introduced me to (among others) Marvel Super Heroes, Champions, and Traveller. Every so often, the magazine would include something really special, like a small board game from Tom Wham or a full set of cards to make your own Deck of Many Things!

Dragon also had some truly great cover art during this period, including a lot of fantastic artists who really helped shape my vision of what fantasy gaming could be all about. It’s fair to say that one of my lifelong dreams was to be published in Dragon—and I have some rejection slips to prove that I tried—but alas, the magazine as I remembered it folded long before my writing career really took off.

Dungeon Magazine


This is my favorite issue of Dungeon, period.

What was interesting about Dungeon Magazine is that it was essentially the best value you could ever find for a D&D fan. Every month, the magazine contained between three and six full adventures for just a handful of dollars.

At the same time, mind you, you could go to your local store and find a single adventure (admittedly a longer, more well-developed and produced one) on the shelf for roughly two to three times the same price. Several Dungeon Magazines contain some truly amazing, imaginative, and well-developed adventures. One that particularly fired up my imagination was the adventure known as “Out of the Ashes” in issue #17, a brilliant adventure authored by Grant S. Boucher.

What is really interesting is to go look at the authors of various adventures published in Dungeon and see where they are now… some familiar names include Elaine Cunningham, P.N. Elrod, John Nephew, Nigel Findley, Thomas M. Kane, Scott Bennie, Christopher Perkins, James Jacobs, Carl Sargent, Wolfgang Baur, Ann Dupuis, Allen Varney, Lisa Smedman, and many, many more. Seriously, I’m just scraping the surface!

Much like Dragon Magazine, I always hoped I would get something published for them—alas, it was simply not to be, as the magazine is now defunct (along with its sister magazine).

White Dwarf


White Dwarf, then and now.

In the early days of White Dwarf, it was much like Dragon in that it encompassed many different games and types of games within its covers. White Dwarf was always a very British magazine, and you can definitely see that it had its own niche with “Thrud the Barbarian” and its vaguely (to my American eyes, anyway) “Heavy Metal”-ish covers.

However, as the publisher—Games Workshop—began to narrow its focus towards its own miniature games, so too did White Dwarf. There have been many criticisms that the magazine transitioned over the decades until it is nearly unrecognizable, essentially becoming a catalog for GW’s miniature games. What I believe is that the magazine has managed to stay relevant to many of its readers, but I think that White Dwarf is encountering significant challenges since the advent of the new millennium.

My own experience with White Dwarf started in the 90’s when I was first exposed to Warhammer 40,000. A good friend of mine, Daniel Barnard, gave me a full shelf-load of old White Dwarfs, and I was instantly hooked on the grim darkness of the far future. I’m very pleased to say that I did end up actually working on the US edition of White Dwarf from 2003-2005, and I directly contributed to the landmark 300th issue.



Shadow Hawk, baby!

Ah, Battletechnology! This magazine focused entirely on FASA’s Battletech game, and it was a fan produced magazine initially created and edited by one of my all-time favorite authors, William H. Keith, Jr.

The magazine featured small bits of short fiction (several of them quite enjoyable), new ‘mech designs, scenarios, and some neat in-character/in-universe insights into the state of the constantly-evolving Battletech universe. It may not have had the slickest production values, but I loved it fiercely, and I have quite a few issues tucked away in my collection. One thing to note is that the magazine often used pictures of kitbashed and converted Battletech models, and often these pictures were altered to look as if the model was actually in the midst of combat—quite clever stuff in the days before Photoshop.

Autoduel Quarterly


Alkahest is awesome.
In the 80’s and 90’s, Autoduel Quarterly was one of two quarterly gaming periodicals that was published in an odd, smaller size format (the other being Adventurer’s Club). AQ, as it was often abbreviated to, contained some excellent short fiction, additional vehicle designs, and sometimes new equipment. AQ always expanded on the world of Car Wars, adding information about various locations throughout the world. I really liked AQ and looked forward to each issue, even though I never really was much of a Car Wars player—the magazine just was that cool. Of particular note is one of my favorite pieces in my collection—volume 3, #3, the Autoduel Champions story “Alkahest” written by John M. Ford.

The magazine often featured some great articles by talented writers like Scott D. Haring and Aaron Allston.

Adventurer’s Club


Cover art by Ben Dunn.

Adventurer’s Club, like AQ before it, was published on a quarterly basis and used (for many issues) a smaller-sized format. Some of the later issues, however, are printed at normal magazine size. Adventurer’s Club was a showcase of something near and dear to my heart—the Hero system! Each issue contained new characters, discussions on how to represent certain powers, house rules, and adventures for the Hero system (mostly Champions). Featured writers included Scott Bennie and Aaron Allston amongst others.

Adventurer’s Club influenced and inspired many fan-created APAzines that followed it, such as Rogue’s Gallery, Haymaker! and EZHero, as well as the (now discontinued) official Hero Games periodical, Digital Hero.

Challenge Magazine

Cover art by Larry Elmore.

There’s not much I can say about Challenge magazine—I rarely encountered it during my early years as a gamer. I do own a few select issues, and it was quite good. I would say that Challenge’s biggest claims to fame are that it contained some good fiction pieces, decent cover art, and encompassed a wide variety of different games over its run, albeit most of the articles were about Traveller and other GDW games. Mike Stackpole is one of the featured writers that I can personally remember.

Honorable Mentions

I’ve talked above about the magazines that made the biggest impact on me as a gamer, but there were a few others out there during the golden age that deserve mention: Shadowland, White Wolf Magazine, Shadis, and Polyhedron were all going concerns during this period. I have no doubt that there’s quite a bit of quality to be found in these magazines, but I personally was never a collector.

Mid-Season Replacements

After around 1999, there weren’t many gaming periodicals left who were still publishing on a regular basis. Between 1999 and 2010, I can only think of a couple of gaming magazines that really kept the torch burning.

Knights of the Dinner Table Magazine


I waste it with my crossbow!

Although most folks think of KODT as a comic book, the fact is that each issue is an actual magazine, with articles, reviews, and game content (mostly for Kenzer & Company’s settings and games, such as Hackmaster and Fairy Meat). While I agree that the main focus of each issue is the KODT comic itself, I’ve come to appreciate that the magazine is making an effort to keep the legacy alive of predecessors like Dragon Magazine and Shadis.

I myself am proud to have been published in KODT six times, and I would definitely recommend them as a great way to get your work published when you’re starting out in the industry. It certainly doesn’t hurt that they pay a decent wage for freelance writing, and I never had any trouble getting paid on time.

Plus, the comics are awesome.

The Rifter


Just in time for Flag Day.

Palladium Books has their own in-house magazine, the Rifter. It’s been running strong for nearly 60 issues now, and while it is not quite a monthly publication, it has continued slow and steady for several years. The Rifter is where many young writers for Palladium get their start (often with short fiction or new game content for Rifts, Nightbane, or Palladium Fantasy), and it often showcases some nifty black and white art. The Rifter is not immune to the production issues of other Palladium products (specifically in the layout and overall production values) but they are much more forgivable in the Rifter than anywhere else. Quite a few of Palladium’s current and recent crop of writers began by writing articles for the Rifter, and I definitely appreciate its place in the world of gaming periodicals as never giving up on producing quality content for their lines.

Modern Marvels

In the last few years, only a handful of magazines have brought anything new to the gaming periodical market. Of course, the publishing business in general is a much different place and publishing a magazine for tabletop gamers is an extremely risky move, so the real surprise is in those magazines that manage to survive!

Kobold Quarterly


I think I own this issue, actually...

A bold newcomer to the gaming magazine world is Kobold Quarterly, run by industry (and magazine) vet Wolfgang Baur. KQ focuses on fantasy gaming in general, and has featured many articles for both Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder. Kobold Quarterly is notable for its great production values, good cover art, and solid content.

No Quarter


Cover art by Andrea Uderzo.

Privateer Press has grown immensely since their start in the RPG market with the Witchfire Trilogy. Now, they have their own “house organ” magazine, No Quarter. NQ mostly focuses on the company’s miniature game lines (Warmachine and Hordes), but it also occasionally contains some material for the Iron Kingdoms RPG setting. It is likely that the magazine will also support the upcoming core Iron Kingdoms RPG as well.

Warp Rift


Eldar ships in sight sir... torpedoes locked on!

This final entry is a strictly personal favorite of mine, focused on the capital-ships-in-space miniature wargame, Battlefleet Gothic. It’s not a published magazine it all—rather, it is a “netzine” published exclusively as a downloadable pdf. Warp Rift is run entirely by volunteers and has produced over thirty issues to date, each one containing discussion on tactics, fiction, new fleets and ships, and some exceptional fan art and painted miniatures. If—like me—you love Battlefleet Gothic, check out Warp Rift.

Last Minute Edit: If you know of a gaming magazine that I didn't mention here, by all means, let me know about it! I love finding out about other RPG and gaming periodicals. :)

Friday, June 8, 2012

Palladium, the Time is Now.

Normally I don't make more than a couple of blog posts a week, and rarely one right after the other on the same day. This is just one of those times where I had something I felt was important to say.

Yesterday, Palladium Books posted their weekly update. In this update, the company president Kevin Siembieda described how he had been doing some market research, and the conclusions he reached from this research is that 90% of his fanbase want nothing to change with Palladium Books.

According to Siembieda:

"It also made something else very, very clear: a) That many of Palladium’s relentless critics are, not customers (i.e. they do not buy or play our games in the first place); b) some are outsiders who have never actually played our games and point out what they think they see as weaknesses and problems (i.e. comments like, “the game system is broken”); c) some have different tastes and prefer other styles of role-playing rules (resulting in comments like, “the world settings are great, but the rules suck,” or “I wish Palladium would change their rules to be more like Game X”); and d) some are dissatisfied with our product, me or the company. That’s okay."

If I'm reading this right, Kevin Siembieda is basically saying "if you criticise Palladium books, you are neither a customer nor a fan."

Mr. Siembieda, with all due respect, you are wrong.

Wrong in a very meaningful and significant way. I have no idea where the numbers you're getting on your post come from, but I can tell you that I personally have met hundreds of Palladium fans that want things to change. I personally have listened to dozens of gamers describe their love for Palladium's IPs (particularly Rifts and Robotech), but bemoan the fact that the system for these games is ancient, outmoded, and is in desperate need of an overhaul.

I've blogged about this fact myself.

It's time for a wake up call!

Honestly, I can't think of any other way to actually get the message across other than by taking a page out of Palladium's own playbook and making a sincere appeal to the gaming community.

If you consider yourself a Palladium Books fan (current, or lapsed) or a Palladium Books customer (having bought books from them or planning to buy books from them), then please, for the love of the Elder Gods COMMENT ON THIS POST so we can let Kevin know how we feel.

I personally consider myself both a fan and a customer of Palladium Books... and although I certainly have my own issues with the company's history and practices, I definitely respect their legacy and I definitely want my voice to be heard.

At the end of the day, this is meant to be constructive--a way to point out that Palladium's recent post is simply in error.

Ramien Meltides says "C'mon guys. Let's do this. The Megaverse needs us!"

Understanding your fanbase is a basic foundation of any publisher in the gaming industry. This is an issue that MATTERS. I'm asking you, gentle reader, to make your mark. I'm challenging you to step up alongside me and make a statement. Add a comment, as short or as long as you want. I'm listening... and I can only hope that our combined voice will reach Kevin's ears as well.

Shadow Chronicles -- New Robotech RPG Review

Okay readers, it’s time for another review! What I’m looking at for this blog entry is the new Robotech RPG line from Palladium Books, beginning with the Shadow Chronicles and moving on to the Macross Saga and Masters Saga. At the time of this writing, the most recent release in the line is the New Generation Sourcebook. It is important to note that this review does not take the New Generation Sourcebook into account—I haven’t read it yet. :)

The Shadow Chronicles

The Shadow Chronicles was a vaunted effort to redeem the Sentinels, and it made me want to see more. Unfortunately, it looks like this attempt is all we're going to get.

In 2006, the company that owns the Robotech IP—Harmony Gold—hired Tommy Yune to be the creative director for the Shadow Chronicles, an animated movie intended as a sequel to the original Robotech show and as a possible launching off point for a new series and growth of the IP.

Anybody with a pie out there in the audience? No? Good.

Tommy Yune is a pretty interesting character—just check out his Wikipedia page (especially the “pie incident”). 

The Shadow Chronicles did indeed jumpstart interest in the IP, which led to an (at this time) ongoing live-action movie project and an official RPG through Palladium Books.

Starting in 2007, Kevin Seimbeida and Jason Marker went to work creating the new edition of the Robotech RPG. It would have been fairly simple just to release the Shadow Chronicles like all the previous Robotech RPG books—as a basic, perfectbound sourcebook. However, Palladium decided to make this relaunch really impressive, and thus, the Shadow Chronicles was available in both a regular perfectbound edition, a hardbound edition (that’s the one I own), and a special collector’s edition known as the “Gold edition.”

One thing to keep in mind is that the perfectbound edition was a different size than any other Palladium Book before—it was in a “manga edition” that is roughly the same size as any manga book one can buy at various retailers (about 7.5” by 5”).


The New Edition

Shadow fighters ahoy!

This is definitely an entirely new edition of the game! Stats for various weapons and mecha have been updated, the book contains complete character generation, skills, combat and game rules sections, and it is very comprehensive with information about the setting, the world, and the characters of the Shadow Chronicles.

The layout is a bit confusing as we dive right into the Invid antagonists before anything else, but it’s a relatively forgivable misstep.

Right off the bat, the production values of this book are impressive, as it uses a mix of old and new artwork to good effect. Much of the new artwork is particularly welcome. After we learn a bit more about the mysterious Haydonite villains, we finally get into the meat of the story with information about the setting on page 59 and character creation on page 64.

Unlike the original Robotech RPG, the Shadow Chronicles RPG uses both an OCC (Occupational Character Class) and an MOS (Military Operational Specialty) system. This is a big improvement, and the list of OCCs is relatively tight and focused (especially in comparison to the original): Fleet Enlisted/Grunt, Battloid Ace, Military Specialist, Technical Officer, and Veritech Pilot. Another welcome addition is the presence of a set of random tables to assist with creating a character quickly and easily. So far, so good!

Charlie's Angels pose!

The MOS system ranges from Command Officer to Infantry Point Man to Medical Technician, and really helps set the characters apart while at the same time providing a fun and interesting niche.

Next comes a bit more information on the military forces and then we dive into familiar territory for the Robotech RPG: pages and pages of technical information on the mecha and gear. I would have been disappointed if this material was not present, and there are a ton of new, cool mecha and power armor to be found within. As always, though, I feel like Palladium goes a bit overboard with the “mecha and vehicle porn,” and by the time we get to the “Heavy Cargo Tractor” I am more than ready to move on. Next is a small but comprehensive section on personal gear, and then comes the game rules!

The game rules section is one of the best in the Palladium library, and opens up with some good advice and information for GM’s followed by the more technical aspects of character creation. Combat Rules come next, followed by skills.

Conspicuously absent are rules and tables for insanity (thank you for not including them!).

Also, there's another huge upside to this book: No stupid mugging as the example of play!

The adventure section includes more information about the setting, some very welcome info on the themes of the game and the kinds of adventures your characters are likely to be involved in, and some additional information on the makeup of enemy forces they can encounter. The book closes with a small section detailing over a dozen characters from the Shadow Chronicles film itself.



The Shadow Chronicles also introduces some creative editing of the history of Robotech, changing a number of minor details to suit the overall story. Many of these changes are completely unnoticeable, but one that sticks out for me is the reclassification of the old Robotech Defence Force (RDF) into the United Earth Expeditionary Force (UEEF). Certainly it makes more sense to have the latter rather than the former, but it is a bit jarring for me… since I grew up with the RDF!
At the end of the day, I’ll always remember the RDF first and foremost, but this is not a nitpick in any way, just a little personal note about my own relationship with the IP.


You're in good hands with Allstate.

The Shadow Chronicles RPG is a very welcome update to the original Robotech RPG—it stands on its own as a better introduction to the game in almost every way. My only real concern is that the system itself is still showing its age, and that there’s a definitely lack of story content about the universe and what Robotech means. One of my criticisms about the original Robotech RPG was that it “didn’t really know what it wanted to be.” Shadow Chronicles knows what it is after and definitely provides a much more focused approach to futuristic, giant robots-in-space military action.

The Macross Saga

Cover art by the very talented Apollo Okamura.

Since the Shadow Chronicles acts as the core RPG book for the new Robotech RPG line, this frees up the Macross Saga sourcebook to focus nearly exclusively on its subject material. At 256 pages, this book is far more substantial than its previous version, and it is well written. Everything about the Macross Saga is incorporated into the new format.

This book goes more in-depth into the story of Robotech and especially the formation of the military forces of Earth that banded together to fight the Zentraedi. In addition, this book presents a lot of information about the Zentraedi, their plans, and their mecha. There's even rules in this book to make Zentraedi characters!

Additional OCCs and MOSs are presented along with a look at some of the most important characters in the Macross Saga (although sadly neglecting some of the more interesting side cast, such as Lynn Kyle and the Zentaedi spies). This book is a quantum leap ahead of its original version, although I still wish it had more information about the Macross Saga as a story, and especially how it relates those themes of sacrifice, love, and heroism to the roleplaying game.

The Masters Saga

Transforming giant robot helicopters fighting other giant robot dudes on flying sleds. Yeah, that's pretty much what it's like.

Unfortunately, the Masters Saga is not quite as significant a step forward. This book contains some disappointments. One of the largest issues that I have with the book is that it lacks nearly any information at all to tell the reader what the Second Robotech War was about. There are zero profiles for the heroes of the ASC (such as Dana Sterling, Louie Nichols, Bowie Grant, Musica, Zor, etc.), and /extremely/ limited information about anything outside of the strictly military aspects and stats for gear and mecha. 

A reader unfamiliar with the Second Robotech War is likely to be quite confused or come away with the idea that the ASC is largely a faceless organization that succeeded in defending the Earth out of sheer luck! The themes and major elements of the Second Robotech War’s narrative story are completely absent, and this (IMHO) is a major misstep.

When compared to the Shadow Chronicles, this book is a major disappointment. It's almost shocking to say that the original Southern Cross book is in some ways better, considering all the excellent effort put into the writing, organization, and art that came along with the Shadow Chronicles renaissance.

Ultimately, I believe that the source of these issues is Kevin Seimbeida—from his track record with the Robotech RPG, it seems clear that he prefers to skimp on the story and instead focus on more guns, more mecha, more vehicles, and more random charts.

To end on a brighter note, the artwork in the Masters Saga is light-years ahead of the previous book, and what little information there is about the ASC and the Masters is well-written and engaging. There is some quite good new additional mecha, and overall the approach to the ASC and the Masters just makes more sense in this book than its predecessor.

Size Does Matter

I think this is the cover to a Macross PC game.

One thing I immediately noticed about the Third Generation book for the new Robotech RPG is that it was released in the normal perfectbound size of all other Palladium Books products. This is, frankly, a baffling move… all of the other entries in the line, including the core book, were released as manga-sized books. You could, of course, spring for the larger hardbound or collector’s editions of the Shadow Chronicles core book, but that was the only other option.

This means that any collector of the series is likely going to have three manga-sized books on his shelf and one—sticking out like a giant sore thumb—standard sized book. That book being the most recent (at this time). I have no idea why Palladium would do something like this, it seems to make zero sense to me from a production standpoint. It would be one thing if the books were all available as either one size or the other. To have one book of a radically different format from the others is just plain weird, and I have to admit it is a fairly significant factor in why I haven’t yet picked it up.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Interview Time: Michael Surbrook

Time for another interview! I’d like to introduce my friend and fellow game designer, Michael Surbrook.

The man, the myth, the legend.

Michael and I have known each other for quite a while and we’ve been in the same gaming group for a number of years. I first became aware of Michael back in 1997 when I first located his website on the internet when I was searching for Champions character write-ups.

In fact, I was looking for write-ups for the Ranma ½ characters, and I happened to find them at Michael’s website, along with tons of other characters.

I would say that one of Michael’s biggest claims to fame is that he is the Hero System guy for character write-ups. If you’re a fan of the Hero System, odds are you’ve seen his site at least once.
Whenever people on the Hero forums ask “how do you write up X power or Y ability?” the answer is often “it’s already on Surbrook’s Stuff.”

To see Michael’s website in all its glory, go here:

Animepunk, indeed.

Michael’s written several books completely of his own for the Hero System, including 5th edition’s Ninja Hero (one of the best books of that edition), the Asian Bestiaries, and his own campaign setting, Kazei 5.

Kazei 5 was originally a digital product for 4th edition Champions, and I ran across it not long after finding Michael’s site. The “animepunk” aesthetic of the setting really fired up my imagination, and I used it as a basis for creating my own campaign (based more on Silent Moebius than Bubblegum Crisis), Shadows Angelus.

Later on, I had the opportunity to work with Michael on a number of books for the Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay line, including Creatures Anathema (where Michael presented lovely gribbly creatures like the Simulacra), the Radical’s Handbook, Blood of Martyrs, and Battlefleet Koronus.

In addition to his books, Michael is a prolific writer for periodicals, and I believe he has written more articles for Haymaker!, EZ Hero, and Digital Hero than any other author.

Not only is Michael a writer, he is a professional artist as well—his work has appeared in a number of books, including his own. One of the more unusual and special places you can find his artwork is in the venerable GURPS Humanx Commonwealth sourcebook!

In this universe, bugs are our friends.

Lastly, as a friend, I can say with authority that Michael is a gamer’s gamer who enjoys both sides of the screen. He’s a scholar who knows a great deal about many subjects, a thorough researcher who can tell you anything you want to know about mythology and Asian culture.

With the introduction out of the way, let’s begin the interview! As before, my questions are in red.

(Read the interview after the jump!)

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Look Back: The Original Robotech RPG Line Review

I’ve mentioned before that one of the pillars of my early roleplaying game experiences is the Robotech RPG by Palladium Books. I first encountered it in junior high school, where I encountered some other young gamers and—at first—I mistook the books for Battletech books. It seems odd to me now to think that I knew of and could recognize Battletech as an IP before I ever was exposed to Robotech, but that’s how it was.

Obey the Minmei!

I had seen episodes of the show, of course, but only sporadically, as it was not played on the air for any of the broadcast channels I had access to in my youth in central Arkansas.

Nevertheless, as soon as I got a chance to look the books over, I was enthralled. Giant robots fighting giant aliens? For love? This, to me, was incredibly cool. I must’ve doodled about a hundred different veritechs in my trapper keeper over the next few years.

Looking back on it now, I could tell we had a lot of trouble making Robotech work as a game. For one thing, none of my friends or I had any real-world military experience. We were junior high school students in the 80’s… all we knew about military pilots and aircraft carriers came out of Top Gun.

Editor’s Note: Actually, I used to dream about Robotech so much that I came up with an entire story about a lost ship full of Robotech pilots where each chapter corresponded to a specific song on the Top Gun soundtrack… I’ve promised someone to do a blog post about that by itself later, so stay tuned)

We played the heck out of this game, and I actually lost count of the number of characters I’ve made for it. The last time I played the game was sometime in 1995 during a brief stint in the US Army, so it’s been almost twenty years for me at this point. Quite a distant perspective!

The Core Book

As the battle goes on we feel stronger...

Let’s begin by pointing out a few important facts. First, this game was published in 1986, which puts it in the first wave of Palladium’s RPG offerings and is fairly early in the industry as a whole. RPG’s have evolved quite a bit since then, but it is unfair to judge it entirely by modern standards.

Secondly, the Robotech license itself is a fairly tangled web, ensnaring at least three very different anime shows and multiple games (for example, Battletech) amongst the legal issues involved. Even in the modern era, America has not received anything new related to Macross (as just one example) in decades due to the copyright wrangling that is still ongoing over pieces of the Robotech puzzle.

I am compelled to point out my ground rules of the blog: there is no hate on Rogue Warden. I may be disappointed with something or find it lacking, but I’m seeking to avoid using loaded emotional terms like hate.

With those out of the way, on to the review.


Actually, the Robotech RPG core book is actually the “Macross Saga” portion of Robotech as an RPG. The front cover says nothing about the “Macross Saga,” which along with the material inside can lead one down a path suggesting that Macross equals Robotech, which is not really true.

Also, the cover has a small but noticeable mistake: the Veritech on the cover is painted like Roy Fokker’s Skull 1, but it is the wrong model. Entirely forgivable, but worth mentioning.

Another important thing to mention up front is the amazing artwork: I’m a fan of Kevin Long, and I think it’s fair to say that his work heavily shaped the vision of the Robotech RPG (based on its animated origin, of course) and Palladium Books in general in those early days.

I remember trying again and again to figure out how Kevin had drawn the Veritechs so well, with his distinct curve of their leg nacelles and the glassy texture of the optics.

The System

Guardian Mode, AKA Gerwalk

One of the things that makes me face-palm about this book is the example of play on page 3. One would imagine that, in an RPG about giant robots and drama and romance and defending earth against invaders, the example of play would have something to do with all of that.

The example of play is about you, as Rick Hunter, confronted with… a mugging. A micronized Zentraedi is threatening a janitor and demanding money. This. Is. A. Mugging.

Keep in mind we’re not even sure what a Zentraedi is yet, besides some kind of alien.

Page 5 is all about Hit Points and S.D.C., which stands for Structural Damage Capacity. It’s unclear why you have two different things to track about how hard it is to kill you, and it’s all useless at any rate, because next we have: Mega-Damage!

Basically, Mega-Damage means there are things out there that are so tough, they can’t be hurt by S.D.C. weapons no matter what. You can whale away all day with a baseball bat on a tank and cause no damage, the book explains (in another baffling example).

So, a Mega-Damage weapon inflicts normal damage on MDC things and does the same damage x100 vs. SDC things. This means that mecha-sized guns, lasers, and missiles do amazing amounts of damage, which is kind of cool.

Next you have some information on OCCs (Occupational Character Classes), alignments, and experience points, which is all fairly standard stuff for a mid-80’s RPG.

Then we get… 3 pages of Insanity rules. Now, granted, some Robotech characters are definitely insane—Colonel Edwards comes to mind from the Sentinels—but it is hardly a staple of the show. Robotech is in no way related to Call of Cthulhu. So these detailed insanity tables seem exceptionally jarring and out of place. Plus rules for drug addiction! Again, not so much a part of Robotech.

What are the available classes? Well, there’s Destroid Pilot (ground robots) and Veritech pilot (flying robots). Those are very cool and match what you get the in show. So far my expectations are met nicely.

Next we have Communications Engineer. Er, this doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, to sit around and fiddle with radios. Not exactly military action, definitely not really related to giant robots fighting stuff.

After that: Electrical Engineer, Field Scientist, and Mechanical Engineer. Hrm. Not really exciting or applicable. I suppose I could see someone playing a field scientist, maybe even a mechanic… and they can learn to pilot mecha… but these choices are really reaching outside the boundaries of your typical military action genre heroes.

The Military Specialist is basically a spy, and he does get to drive Mecha almost as good as the Destroid and Veritech Pilot, so he’s a decent choice.

At the end of this chapter, I’m puzzled as to why you’d ever want to play anything besides a Destroid Pilot, Veritech Pilot, or Military Specialist. I don’t recall any of our Robotech games even including a character from one of those classes.

At the time this game was published, one of Palladium’s other game lines was Recon, a military action game. I think a lot of Recon’s mindset bled over into the writing and development of the first Robotech RPG, stressing the “we’re military guys doing military things” theme but with little actual resemblance to any other aspects of Robotech. Guns, gear, and Mecha are the unabashed stars of the show in this book, and it is clear that the game is meant to be played as more of a military simulation than as a drama.

Skills, combat rules and gear round out the system portion of the book. Possibly one of its finest features is that it does go into great detail about the mecha and vehicles, lovingly showing the reader many of their systems and cockpits and discussing all the stuff they can do. In many ways, this book does succeed in being a Robotech mecha resource manual in that it really shows you what the Veritech fighters look like and how they work.

The Story

Cover art by Kevin Long

Actually, there’s… not much about the story at all in this book. You barely get a page and a half about who the Zentraedi are and what they want. We get a page and a half on the reconstruction of Earth and about the same length about the various remaining regions and conditions on Earth. We then are introduced to a handful of NPC’s and some information about the SDF-1, and then the book ends.

To say that this book presents very little about Robotech is an understatement of massive proportion.

I suppose Kevin Seimbieda assumed that his consumers were fans of the show, and thus, they were already watching the story and didn’t need to see it inside the books themselves. That’s quite an assumption, but I don’t really have anything else to go on.

Looking on the bright side, I do owe this book a great debt in that it caused me to seek out any and all information about Robotech that I could find. I devoured the novels by James Luceno and Brian Daley, I watched any episodes I could find, and I researched as much of the story as I could. I found a lot to like about the Macross Saga and Robotech in general.

There’s a lot of things about Robotech—specifically the Macross Saga—that I really hold dear: the romance between Max and Miriya, the brotherhood of Roy Fokker and Rick Hunter, the tragedy of what occurs to the hopes and dreams of the human race, the aching loneliness of Lisa Hayes, Minmei’s sometimes sweet/sometimes annoying naiveté, the stoic honor of Captain Gloval—these things and much more make up the core of what Robotech is really about.

Unfortunately, the Robotech RPG covers only a handful of these ideas, and even those are just briefly touched on in favor of more guns, more mecha, and more combat rules.

For another perspective, check out the review here:

Supplements and Sourcebooks

The Robotech RPG line had a troubled history with sourcebooks and supplements. Some, such as the Southern Cross and Invid Invasion books (detailing the second and third chapters of Robotech, respectively) were quite good overall.

Others, such as New World Order and Return of the Masters, attempted to flesh out the setting with more information on the situation on Earth with varying results and quality.

Oh man. This book is full of crazy.

The original Robotech RPG line had one major misstep with its sourcebooks, the infamous Lancer’s Rockers, featuring transforming “instrumecha” and “battle of the bands.”

The Sentinels received a couple of books later on that cover the later chapters of Robotech (and hopefully not the last). Unlike previous sourcebooks covering periods of Robotech, the Sentinels books discuss more of the story and background.

The big one in back is the MAC II "Monster."

Of these sourcebooks, my favorite is definitely Strike Force, which presented some new Macross mecha, some decent setting information for post-Macross Earth (Indochina), and probably the line's best adventure, dealing with an inventive and cunning Zentraedi warlord.


I wonder why they're in Guardian mode in deep space...

Overall, the adventures for the original Robotech RPG line are lackluster at best. The RDF Accelerated Training Program, for example, is basically just a bunch of random encounters, tables to generate bands of enemies, and reprinted material from other books (including the superfluous insanity rules).

Two words: Metal Siren

There was an attempt to make a Macross II RPG based on the anime of the same name. However, Macross II is not really Robotech… and, in fact, it is only a parallel universe to the actual Macross Saga that started the whole thing in the first place. Aside from some new mecha and vehicles, it doesn’t really offer anything different.

The expansions for Macross II featured one sourcebook with additional mecha and bad guys and three volumes of deck plans, in case you wanted to dungeon-crawl your way through an alien ship. I found these to be singularly unimpressive and a disappointing use of the page space.

Overall Verdict 

Note that heads are not to scale.

The original Robotech RPG is actually a pretty bad example of a “licensed game.” It get some things right, particularly in the visuals, but in nearly every other way it fails to get across to the consumer just what Robotech is about and how to experience that in a roleplaying context.

Other than the license, it doesn’t really have anything to offer as an RPG—it’s basically just Recon with the serial numbers filed off and giant robots put in.

The thing that I keep coming back to with Robotech is that I don’t think it really knew what kind of game it wanted to be. Most of its products leaned heavily towards mecha military action, more of a tactical exercise than really exploring themes or ideas or stories.

Bright Spots

In an attempt to end this review on a high note, I am really glad that Palladium made the Robotech RPG. It helped introduce me to a lifelong love of anime, giant robots, and cool sci-fi stories mixing the two. Looking through my “nostalgia goggles,” I can remember how each new Robotech RPG book made me imagine amazing action-packed battles against alien invaders, rescuing the pretty idol singers from certain doom, and flying a kickass space fighter through impossible odds.

Also, Robotech really helped Palladium grow in its early years. Who knows, it is possible that without the Robotech RPG, we may have never seen Rifts, or Nightbane, or Chaos Earth.

The brightest spot of all is that Palladium decided not to abandon Robotech and began releasing a new version of the Robotech RPG in 2008 with Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles. Tune in next time for my review of the new (and definitely improved!) Robotech RPG.